Assembly Bill 70 and Senate Bill 42 – which have been bottled up in committee for several months – are slated to be heard by the Wisconsin Legislature as soon as Jan. 16.
If the numbers on those two bills sound vaguely familiar, they should because they were discussed last March.
AB 70 and its companion bill, SB 42, gives school boards, city councils, village boards, county boards and technical college boards the option to post meeting minutes and proceedings on their own websites to fulfill publication requirements instead of printing them in a local newspaper, which is currently required by state law.
This is despite the findings of the Joint Legislative Council Study Committee on the Publication of Government Documents and Legal Notices – which met during the late summer of 2016.
Leaders from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association (WNA) and other open government and governmental transparency organizations testified against the bills.
WNA Executive Director Beth Bennett said the legislative council committee did not recommend that legal notices be moved from newspapers in favor of government websites.
“The legislative council’s review of why legal notices exist and why they are published in newspapers demonstrated that there is far more to the publication of a legal notice than simply informing the public via a printed notice in the newspaper,” Bennett said as part of her testimony last March.
Robb Grindstaff, general manager of Hometown News Limited Partnership and W.D. Hoard & Sons Publishing in Fort Atkinson, and Andrew Johnson, publisher of the Dodge County Pionier in Mayville, also testified against the bill.
WNA President John Ingebritsen, publisher of Morris Newspapers based in Lancaster, attended the hearing and registered his opposition with the committee.
Helen Marks Dicks, representing AARP of Wisconsin, testified against the passage of Assembly Bill 70 on behalf of the more than 840,000 AARP members statewide.
All of them made the point that transparent government remains the best government. Government remains transparent to the people when meetings remain open to the public, records remain available for public inspection and use, and when public notices remain accessible to the public.
The best way to allow those notices to remain accessible to the public is through paid publication newspapers.
Why? It’s how most local folks in the know in their communities get their local news. It only makes sense to publish the happenings of local school boards, city councils, village boards and county boards in those local newspapers.
Just one example of this can be found during the last public hearing on these bills. In March, Helen Marks Dicks testified older Americans are much more likely to rely on newspapers to get their news -- and less likely to get their information online.
“We’re probably the biggest readers of the minutes,” she said. “… We assume if (information) were important, it would come to us.”
We were hoping that 2018 wasn’t going to be the same as 2017, when legislators first proposed this bad idea.
But it appears that some in Madison are bent on denying the public’s right to know what’s happening in their local government.
That is, unless you get involved.
Call your local state representative or state senator and tell them to vote against these bills.
It’s your government -- and you should be able to read all about it.